Call it the revenge game, or call it order restored.
On Friday, in Tokyo, the U.S. much-maligned U.S. Men’s team defeated France (87-82) in the gold medal basketball game.
France, who’s become somewhat of a nemesis to the Americans, was their usual feisty and gritty selves all game, as they boast a roster with eight players who play or have played in the NBA.
The win secures the fourth straight gold medal for Team USA, but believe me it wasn’t pretty or easy. They had to survive a late rally by France in the fourth as they cut the lead to as little as three.
But for the 16th time in 20 Olympiads, the United States is on top of the basketball podium again.
And once again, Kevin Durant further solidified his status as the best basketball player on the planet, and one of the greatest Olympians ever. His 29 points, adding to his all-time Olympic scoring lead, seemed to come with ease and when Team USA needed an offensive boost.
Here’s what former Golden State teammate Draymond Green had to say about Durant:
“One of the most special guys you’ve ever seen lace their shoes up to take a basketball court, he carried us.”
What an advantage for Gregg Popovich to have the luxury of throwing the basketball to a walking bucket and just get out the damn way. In winning his third consecutive gold medal, he matched Carmelo Anthony, as the only male players to have accomplished this feat.
The game was sweet revenge for two painful losses to France. One occurred in the 2019 FIBA World Championship, when France eliminated the Americans in the quarterfinals.
That team was vastly different though, with no Durant and very little star power. But the French proved that win wasn’t a fluke when they stunned the Americans in the opening game of the preliminary round of these Olympics (83-76).
In that game the Americans blew two leads and the loss ended their 25-game Olympic win streak.
The opening game loss was a shock but not to the point where it ever felt like this team couldn’t respond and still win gold.
Team USA came together rather hastily, at the end of a very exhausting NBA season. This team had to make adjustments on the fly, replacing players due to COVID protocols and injury.
The team also arrived in Tokyo without three of their key players; Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker. who were all playing in the NBA Finals and didn’t land in Japan until less than 24 hours before tip-off of their first game.
Of course jet lag can’t explain or be used as an excuse for all the struggles the Americans had early on. They also didn’t have the chemistry and continuity that the other teams had. While other teams grew up playing together in many cases, the U.S. team is always put together from an Uber talented pool of players pften lacking immediate synchronicity.
Although commitment can’t replace years of team chemistry, it sure helps. Since the failure at the 2004 Olympics, when a lackluster U.S. team lost it’s opener and settled for the bronze, USA Basketball director, Jerry Colangelo has sought players who are dedicated to the process and not just looking to elevate their personal brand.
Durant who missed a year and a half recovering from a torn Achilles just loves the game and he mentioned how he didn’t wanna miss anything else.
He exemplified his commitment this year. Despite the frustration, he never waned in his commitment to lead Team USA in the COVID-19 Olympics.
Popovich, who’s won everything you could think as a the guy in the lead chair except a gold medal, says if KD had backed out he would’ve begged, cried and done anything to change his mind.
He didn’t have to do that as KD came, led and captured Olympic gold on Japanese soil during a pandemic.